Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Review: Supergirl #44

Supergirl #44

Writer: Sterling Gates
Penciller: Jamal Igle
Inker: Jon Sibal
Released: August 19, 2009

Halfway through Supergirl #44, when Superman, Supergirl, and Mon-El are preparing to take off to capture escaped fugitives and quell disaster as only superheroes can, something happens that speaks of how ideas of femininity and masculinity have evolved in the Superman mythology. Lois Lane, intrepid reporter for the Daily Planet and long-time girlfriend of Superman, steps up and puts her two-cents in, and sways the big blue boyscout into changing his battle plans. Instead of flying off to handle a troubled situation in Metropolis alone, Supergirl will be, essentially, chaperoned by Mon-El. All because Lois said so, and Superman acquiesced.

The relationship between Lois and Kara has become strained, to put it mildly, all since Kara confessed to having killed Lois's sister, Lucy, who was busy killing and plotting against humanity under the guise of Superwoman. And while the killing was unintentional and surely could be seen as being a casualty of superhuman warfare, brought on as much by Lucy and the risky life she was leading, it is only natural and perfectly understandable that Lois would see fit to lay sole blame on Supergirl. No matter the crimes one has committed, if they are family, they are always family. Add to this, the guilt Lois no doubt feels at being estranged from her sister, and seeing Supergirl as taking away any chance at reconciliation she might have had with her sister, and the anger with which she now treats Kara is even more understandable. After all, Kara did not just kill Lois's sister, but brought to light Lois's own failings as a sibling. In light of all this, anger is the only rational response Lois is capable of, and we understand it, even if we also truly sympathize with Kara, as we should.

Lois Lane has seen much transformation in her long history, going from girl reporter continuously humiliated by Superman, all while obsessively trying to either reveal his secrets or rope him into marriage; to scrappy and gifted Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, strong and confident enough to be the wife of a god who walks amongst men. In Grant Morrison's All-Star Superman #3, Lois says to Superman that it is easily understandable for people to grasp what she would see in him, but what, she wonders, and by inference what the greater populace must wonder then, would a superhuman see in plain ol' Lois Lane. Superman's response: "Well, I guess there has to be one thing I just can't help, Lois." Ms. Lane is more than just a journalist, more than just a romantic foil, more than just a wife; she is the only woman with the power to seduce a god and turn him into a man who can feel genuine love. The love between Superman and Lois Lane is of a far greater significance than the dalliances of Zeus and his mortal bed-post notches. It is one that has morphed over time to become a great romance of our culture, their stories gracing our comics, our movie screens, and our televisions.

Now, in those comics, this love is tested. Supergirl is Superman's cousin, his family, and up until recently, was the only surviving member of his family. Lois is his absolute love, the one thing he just can't help. Regardless of the circumstances, one has hurt the other, and Kal-El of Krypton is caught in the middle.

Which brings us back to the interesting turn the book takes in this one crucial scene where battle plans are drawn and attack strategy formed. With just one stern look and a few insinuating words of murderous implication, Lois puts the brakes on those plans and calls out Supergirl as being inadequate and untrustworthy. In a sense, a gauntlet is thrown down, and Superman, caught in the crossfire, sides with his wife. On the surface it would seem that while he may wear the blue tights of truth, justice, and the American way, in his marriage, Lois wears the pants. It would seem this way, but that is wrong. It would be a cynic that would say Superman shows he is hen-pecked by allowing Lois to bluster in with her barely contained emotions and dictate how he should go about being Superman. What this scene demonstrates more keenly is Superman's sensitivity to the emotions of those he loves. Superman is the most sensitive of masculine superhuman hero characters. He was raised by loving parents who taught him about the true strength of compassion and integrity. He has chosen a secret identity for himself that is unassuming and good-natured, the mild-mannered and diligent investigative reporter. Possessing all-powerful strength, he must show restraint every waking moment, so as not to maim or even kill anyone, from something as simple as just bumping into them walking down the street. When contrasted with the cold, insular, and unloving world that surrounds Batman and his outwardly misogynistic alter-ego of billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, one could argue that Superman represents the soft feminine flesh of the outstretched palm, and Batman is the masculine outer scabbed-over knuckles of the fist.

Batman would have chafed in this situation, would have bristled at having anyone question his well-planned strategy (and he would have a point, really). Superman is smarter than given credit for, however, and shows that here. He knows what this is really all about. He trusts Supergirl implicitly, understands what she is going through, that she did what she did in the moment of battle against a raging and dangerous foe. He knows Kara, shares with her the experience of being superhuman, of facing heart-wrenching seemingly impossible decisions. He knows she is strong enough to put emotion aside and do what needs to be done to save a planet (or two). He also understands that none of that matters to Lois. What matters is that her sister is dead, and dead at the hands of his cousin. He understands the difference between the emotional and the rational. Lois's anger at Kara may be a rational response, but her distrust is misplaced. The real fire here is with Lois, so he acquiesces, and sets aside his ego to do what is right for the situation.

The Superman Universe has become a rich tapestry marked by the strong presence of fully-formed women, and Supergirl, under writer Sterling Gates and artist Jamal Igle, has been at the forefront of this movement. This one scene is evidence of the complexity inherent in this new, more modern, dynamic. Lois Lane is no longer the chirpy and annoying single-gal looking to bag the superhuman husband, needing to be rescued after falling into trouble of her own making. Supergirl is no longer the dim-witted blond with weak-will, needing to be rescued by her more seasoned cousin. Superman is no longer just the idealized strongman leaping tall buildings and punching out crooks. They've matured, and become a more interesting and precarious balance of masculine and feminine sensibilities. They've become more human.

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